LOS ANGELES — It’s now on you, “Mulan.”
Warner Bros. on Friday pushed back the release of “Tenet,” a $200 million-plus mind bender from Christopher Nolan that was supposed to arrive in theaters on July 17 and jump-start the pandemic-stricken movie business. Instead, “Tenet” will be released on July 31.
The move means that Disney’s extravagant “Mulan,” directed by Niki Caro, will now mark the return of megawatt Hollywood releases when it comes out on July 24 — unless Disney also decides that the timing isn’t quite right. A Disney spokesman had no immediate comment.
To make up for the absence of “Tenet” on July 17, Warner will rerelease Mr. Nolan’s cerebral thriller “Inception” on that date (almost 10 years to the day from its initial debut). Toby Emmerich, Warner’s movie chairman, said in a statement that the “Inception” screenings will include exclusive footage from “Tenet” as a “count down” to its opening day. He called “Tenet” a global movie of “jaw-dropping size, scope and scale.”
In another schedule change on Friday, Warner moved Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman 1984” out of the summer. The lasso-wielding superheroine will now arrive on Oct. 2 instead of Aug. 14.
After being closed for months by the pandemic, movie theaters around the world are starting to reopen, albeit with limited attendance and heightened safety requirements. But theaters in important markets like New York and Los Angeles may not be open by July 17. Further complicating matters, no one knows how skittish audiences will be about returning to theaters, making big-budget releases all the more important.
The big studios are eager to begin releasing movies again, but none are particularly thrilled by the idea of going first. In recent weeks, Warner, concerned about its “Tenet” investment, was leaning in favor of postponement, while Mr. Nolan, a fervent advocate for preserving the moviegoing experience, was more eager to press ahead. The discussions amounted to a fraught moment for Warner: Mr. Nolan is a proven moneymaker, and the studio wants to keep him happy.
Mr. Nolan’s films for Warner include the “Dark Knight” trilogy and most recently “Dunkirk,” which collected $527 million worldwide in 2017. In March, he wrote in The Washington Post that movie theaters were “the most affordable and democratic of our community gathering places” and urged Congress to include them in the federal bailout. “When this crisis passes, the need for collective human engagement, the need to live and love and laugh and cry together, will be more powerful than ever,” Mr. Nolan wrote.
The plot for “Tenet” has been kept secret, in accordance with Mr. Nolan’s wishes. The film stars John David Washington (“BlacKkKlansman,” HBO’s “Ballers”) and Robert Pattinson, best known for the “Twilight” saga.
When the pandemic spread to the United States in March, studios pushed back all of their major releases. “Black Widow” from Disney-Marvel, for instance, moved to Nov. 6 from May 1. Some studios — notably Universal — have started to make some of their stockpile available on premium video-on-demand services. Universal declared that P.V.O.D. results for “Trolls World Tour” were strong enough to prove a new business model, increasing the pressure on theaters.
AMC Theaters, the world’s largest cineplex operator, announced on Tuesday that “almost all” of its locations in the United States and Britain would reopen next month. Over all, theaters in 90 percent of overseas markets will be running again by mid-July, according to the National Association of Theater Owners, a trade organization for movie exhibitors in 98 countries. “Over these last months we have been keeping Warner Bros. closely informed of our work toward reopening our theaters in accordance with governmental health and safety requirements,” the trade organization said in a statement on Friday.
A modestly budgeted thriller, “Unhinged,” starring Russell Crowe, will test the waters when it is released on July 10 by the upstart Solstice Studios.
It is unclear whether people — even while watching movies in well-sanitized theaters with limited capacity — will feel safe from the coronavirus, the spread of which rose to a worldwide high on Sunday, as measured by new cases. As the United States has started to reopen its economy, new hot spots have emerged; Texas, Florida and California all recently reported their highest daily tallies of new virus cases. Mass protests against police brutality have raised the specter of a coronavirus surge in the coming weeks.
“Mulan” could have an easier time turning out crowds, some box office analysts say. Parents are desperate to have something to do with their children, the Disney brand offers an aura of safety and the story is well known. “Tenet,” with its mysterious premise, could be a harder sell.
Restrictions for reopening theaters vary by state. According to California’s state guidance, as of June 12, theaters are urged to limit attendance to 25 percent of theater capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower. Theater owners are also being encouraged to designate arrival times for patrons, establish specific entryways and exits to theaters and reconfigure seats to ensure six feet of physical distance between attendees. Masks are required for employees who must be within six feet of customers and encouraged for patrons when entering the theaters and at the concession stand. Disposable seat covers are also suggested.
Los Angeles and the Bay Area are the nation’s No. 1 and No. 3 movie markets. New York City and its immediate suburbs are No. 2.